Friday, August 17, 2007

Peonies in the News

Shortly after starting the Pittsgrove Farms' Plant Dirt blog we added the "News Tracker" at the bottom of the page tagged with some of our favorite topics. Not long after it was added a couple of Peony stories came up. It is great to see such interest in one of our favorite plants. We think both articles are a good read for those new to growing Peonies. The first article was from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Ask Marianne column. It asks a common question that we hear a lot, "why aren't my peonies blooming well?"

The second article from the Asbury Park Press also touches upon why your peonies won't bloom and gives a nice overview about growing peonies. Unfortunately there is no mention of New Jersey growers but hopefully we can help change that next year.

Jeremy Gulish

Ask Marianne: Too much mulch can stifle a peony's abundant bloom


Q: For the past eight years, my peonies were full of blooms. This summer, there was exactly one bloom. What happened?
-- M.B., Anchorage

M.B.: This is usually my favorite question to answer. That's because the cure for peonies that stop blooming usually is so simple. Just scrape away any mulch covering the crown of the plants. Peonies don't bloom when they are planted too deeply. In your case, perhaps a harsh winter in Alaska had something to do with the lack of buds, and removing all mulch from peonies in an extreme climate could be a chilling experience. Wait until early spring, when the ground is no longer frozen, then remove added mulch from around your peonies to encourage more blooms.

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 08/16/07


Before this area became so densely populated, it was not unusual to see peonies blooming in May at long-deserted farmhouses. These plants live for many years, with the clumps getting larger and more beautiful over time. When I left my Sea Girt garden, mine were about 35 years old and just gorgeous.

These old-fashioned flowers are planted from September to first frost, so start shopping now. It is more satisfactory to plant roots of herbaceous (a nonwoody plant) peonies in the fall than container-grown plants in May. Look for clumps with multiple eyes (growing points). Even large clumps may not flower their first season.

There are scores of species and cultivars available, ranging from single to fully double (petals), and in colors of white, pink, red, purple and blends. You can find pictures online by searching "peony" and, of course, in mail-order catalogs. Tree peonies do well here, too, but be prepared to pay a good deal more for a good specimen. There also are smaller growing herbaceous plants for the rock garden that grow to only 15 to 20 inches.

Among the newer varieties, look for those awarded the gold medal of the American Peony Society. Old varieties are still good, with Festiva Maxima going strong after decades — a fluffy white double flower with splashes of red on some of the petals and the fragrance of a rose.

The foremost American hybridizer, Roy G. Klehm, has given us scores of the newer beauties.Peonies were cultivated in the Orient many years before they were introduced to Western gardeners.

Choose a site in full sun with well-rained soil. Adjust the pH to about 6.5 and mix compost to about a foot deep. Set the plants at least 3 feet apart. When planting, it is critical that the eyes be no deeper than 2 inches or the plants won't flower. Make the planting holes wide enough to accommodate the roots without crowding. Fill the hole, tamp tightly and water thoroughly. Use a loose mulch for the winter, removing it in spring to allow new growth to come to the surface.

Expect bloom in mid- to late May, depending upon the species and variety. When petals drop, remove the seed heads. This is the time to fertilize. Use a product such as 5-10-10. A single light application is all that is needed. Take care not to overfertilize with nitrogen, the first number in the fertilizer formula of NPK.

In wet springs, the plants may become infected with botrytis that can make new shoots wilt and buds to turn black when they are the size of peas. The fungus easily is controlled with a fungicide listed for its control. If not sure, call your county Rutgers Cooperative Extension office in Freehold Township or Toms River.

Tree peonies are shipped in the fall in containers and should be planted as soon as received. If the soil is well tilled with supplemental compost or other humusy material and enriched with a slow-release phosphorus (the second letter P in the formula) it will not need supplemental fertilizer for several years. Mulching is recommended.

Whatever type of peony you plant, keep it well away from trees and shrubs with competing roots.

Most quality nurseries will ship 2-year-old field-grown roots. Don't settle for less. One company, Terre Ceia Farms in Pantego, N.C., grows peonies for the cut-flower market as well as bulb and root retail sales and sells 10-year-old clumps for $40.

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